Some of the nicest evenings I have ever spent involved Thai food and a movie with a group of friends. Among my most pleasant memories is the night I first encountered Wong Kar Wai’s exquisite Chungking Express, and first tasted the tangy perfection of the tom ka tofu soup at Plearn Thai in Berkeley.
Such evenings come to mind as I try to envision just what activity on the mall side of South Portland might provide a worthy accompaniment to a dinner at Pom’s Thai — a lovely new place tucked away in a little strip mall on Western Avenue in South Portland. I have heard there is dancing at Eggspectations, which is around the corner from Pom’s, but that doesn’t seem right. Not Target — since I assume most people are like me, and follow up a stroll around liberal-America’s superstore with a visit to the in-house cafeteria. So the movies it is. True, you are not likely to see anything as mesmerizing as Chungking at the Clarks Pond 8, but an evening watching Adam Sandler make fart jokes will seem a lot less debasing if you also get to eat at Pom’s.
Pom’s Thai is worth the trip on its own merits. The menu will mostly be familiar to fans of local favorite Thai Taste on the other side of South Portland, which is also run by Pom Boobphachati. The new place looks great. While Thai Taste’s quirky touches are charming, Pom’s uses its space more elegantly. Tear-drop lamps hang from the high ceilings, casting pleasantly low light on the taupe-walls, cherry-wood tables, and black-and-white photos of urban Thai scenes. And the cuisine, full of bright reds, oranges, and greens, looks beautiful on the white dishware. Even the damp, pale dumplings of the “steamed butterfly” appetizer looked attractive on the plate in a Malevich early-suprematism sort of way.
The dumplings were filled with a mixture of ground chicken and peanuts sautéed with turnips, which was crunchy, a little sweet, and perfect with a touch of soy sauce. The fried spring rolls offered a hard crunch on the exterior, and a softer crunch of shredded fresh vegetables inside. They were quite good though I prefer to dip them in a sauce that is fishy rather than sweet. The tom kha gai soup was nice, even if it did not measure up to that first taste at Plearn years ago. The coconut milk had been sufficiently diluted so it did not overwhelm the broth, allowing the tangy bite of the galanga to come through. The broth was a little sweet, however, and I thought it could have used more of the flavors of lime and lemongrass. The chicken and mushrooms seemed a little lonely at the bottom of the bowl.
It was impossible to quibble with the wonderful curries, which can be ordered with tofu, chicken, pork, beef, duck, shrimp, squid, or scallop. Red curry is a little orange in color in its Pom’s incarnation. A very pleasant heat lurks in the creamy sweetness of the coconut milk base, which is liberally spotted with large pieces of white chicken and basil leaves, crisp fresh green beans and chunks of red and green pepper. I can imagine someone getting just a bit of sticker shock opening the menu, since many of the specials and seafood dishes are $13-16. But these curries and the noodle dishes are really the heart of the menu, and they are all under $10 if you don’t get duck or seafood.